Belgium looked solid as always under Guy Thijs and had to be favourites. The team that had reached semi-finals in Mexico 1986 was largely intact, with few new faces around. Goalkeeper Pfaff had stepped down, but this position had been well covered with the emergence of Michel Preud’homme as a world leading goalkeeper. Scifo had enjoyed a fantastic breakthrough in 1986, but he had now just ended a disappointing season in Internazionale, and there were questions of his development. Other than that, there were familiar faces in Jan Ceulemans, Eric Gerets and Franky Van Der Elst, to name a few.

Portugal were an uncertain quantity. After all the turbulence during the 1986 World Cup, the team had almost disintegrated. For their 1988 qualifiers, they were led by unexperienced Ruy Seabra. In time for Italy’90, things looked a bit more tidy. The new manager was highly experienced Juca, ready for his third stint as a manager for the Portugal national team (also 1977-78 and 1980-82). Born in 1929 and manager for almost 30 years, only Guy Thys was older than Juca in the European qualification zone. Now several of the players that had been excluded under Ruy Seabra returned to international football, although a few of them now probably were past their prime.

Czechoslovakia were neither without their problems before the start of their campaign for Italia’90, as they had recently lost their two most creative players, Luboš Kubík and Ivo Knoflíček had taken the opportunity to continue their careers on the other side of the Iron Curtain, and so their licences were suspended by the national football federation and excluded from the national team. A hard hit for the Czechoslovakian team, no doubt, for at the time there were no obvious replacements for them to give their play a creative spark.

Switzerland were usually never in the contention for the qualification spot in the 1980s. They had finished 4th in their qualification group for the 1988 Euro, one point behind a weakened Portugal, drawing twice. Daniel Jeandupeux continued as coach. The Swiss league was rich and attracted a few good foreign players, but the national team was not quite up to that standard.

Luxembourg were as usual ranked as the bottom team (5th), and could at best hope for a draw. In the qualifiers for the 1988 Euro they had drawn against Scotland (h), but at a point where Scotland had nothing to play for.